The PCB is “very optimistic” about the operational plans being put into place for this summer’s tour of England by Pakistan and has reached an agreement in principle after ECB assurances, as elite-level cricket plots a re-start after months of worldwide lockdown.
The two boards held a meeting on Friday in which the ECB talked the PCB through plans for keeping players in a bio-secure environment, from the moment they land in the country through the three Tests and three T20s they are scheduled to play. Working plans include flying the Pakistan squad into the UK on a chartered flight in early July and allocating them one venue as a base, where they can not only carry out their training and intra-squad practice games but also spend the mandatory two-week quarantine period put in place by the UK government for all visitors from outside the country.
That venue, with a hotel in near proximity, is yet to be confirmed, and would be separate from the two venues the series of six international matches is to be played in. The Tests are currently scheduled to begin early August, once Pakistan have undergone the quarantine and put in a few weeks’ worth of practice and training.
“We were presented with a lot of the planning and detail that the ECB are putting into place for this summer, especially on the operational side, right from the plane for travel to the bio-secure venues we will play in,” Wasim Khan, the PCB chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo. “It was very, very encouraging from that point of view and the PCB is very optimistic about the plans in place.”
The tour going ahead will still depend on a number of factors, foremost among them how the UK continues to move slowly and gradually out of the lockdown imposed in the country since late March. The UK has been among the worst-hit countries in the world by the coronavirus pandemic, although it is accepted now that it has passed the peak of the epidemic.
Earlier this week, a few restrictions – such as on outdoor exercise and the return of some people to work – were lifted and the government also put out guidelines for the return of professional sport as part of a two-stage plan. England players are expected to return to individual skills-based exercises next week, with the second stage – which will allow ‘social clustering’ among training groups – to be governed by safety assessments from Public Health England.
Pakistan are also fortunate in that they are the second visitors this summer, and so will be able to observe how well the ECB’s plans are executed if West Indies agree to go ahead with their rescheduled tour.
And not least, it will come down to how Pakistan’s players feel about travelling to England. “We’re going to be speaking to the players this coming week and update them on the ECB’s plans,” Khan said. “We’re not going to force any player to tour if they don’t feel comfortable.”
The PCB is also planning to draw out a plan for its players to return to training this week, as the country loosens its own lockdown. Infections are still on the rise in Pakistan according to most data but the Imran Khan-led government has argued that the country’s economic circumstances do not allow it to maintain a strict lockdown indefinitely. The option to reinforce stricter lockdowns, nation-wide or in more targeted fashion, remains open, however.
“We are still in an evolving situation, where things could change and we have to work with government guidelines across the board,” Khan said. “But the next 12 months are critical for cricket around the world and it’s important that we show solidarity at this moment in time, and that we stick together through this period.”